“Washington DC dating is awful.”
Over the past 15 years of working as a psychologist in Washington DC, I’ve heard this comment from clients many, many times.
My most recent advice column in The Washington Blade features a letter that sums up the complaints: DC is full of people who are cold-hearted and self-centered, who only date you if you’re “someone” and if you can benefit their career.
I’ve heard these complaints too often to doubt their veracity, but as I point out in my reply, there are also a lot of folks in this town who are looking to base a relationship on more than what they can get out of each other.
If you’re in the latter category, how do you find other like-minded relationship seekers?
Are people in D.C. exceptionally cold-hearted? Or are my expectations too high?
I moved here a few years back from the Northwest, where I grew up and went to college. I’ve been working in what I consider to be a perfectly respectable job, but it isn’t prestigious, influential or high-stakes. I do feel like I am making a positive contribution to the world, which means a lot to me.
I actually didn’t come out till I moved to Washington and about two years ago, I met Lisa. I thought we were a good couple. We laughed a lot, enjoyed staying home to cook or going out dancing, had a fun physical relationship — lots of nice stuff. We even talked about marriage.
Last week Lisa broke up with me. She left me for a woman she met through her job (in politics) who has a very glamorous position. And she basically told me that she is leaving me because she and Claire can do a lot for each other and go far together. The implication being that I don’t have anything to offer her.
This really hurt. I thought relationships were about good times and treating each other well. If it’s all about “who you are” and “where you can get me,” I can’t compete and don’t want to.
Is Washington DC dating really this Machiavellian? I thought I should get some feedback before I leave town, which I’m seriously considering.
I’m sorry you were so painfully dumped.
Relationships have always been evolving. Until the last couple of hundred years or so, marriage was in large part an economic arrangement. Both poor and rich often planned marriages to optimize financial wellbeing. Marrying primarily for love is a relatively recent concept, by and large.
So in a way, Lisa’s move to be in a relationship for mutual advancement is a throwback to the old days. And yes, in a town where people hold a lot of power and strive to hold even more, you do see couples make such relationship choices. There’s no point in judging this. We’re all different and have different priorities.
However, as a couples therapist, I will say that relationships are more satisfying when people bring caring, love and mutual respect to the table rather than basing connection on what they are likely to get out of each other.
You can certainly seek a love-based relationship. And of course, there are other people in Washington who are looking for the same thing, so I don’t think you need to pack your bags just yet.
But I am wondering how you wound up with Lisa. You write that you came out fairly recently and so I wonder about your experience with relationships. What criteria made you choose her as a romantic partner?
Did you have your eyes and your ears open? If so, were there any signs that the two of you had different ideas about relationships? How much did you talk with each other about what you are looking for in life?
My thought, obviously, is that if Lisa is as coldhearted and as single-minded about getting ahead as you describe, you should have discerned some clue that something was “off” between the two of you rather than being as blindsided as you say you were.
What made you overlook any dissonance? Is it possible that you were so excited simply to be in a relationship that you didn’t pay much attention to the actual person with whom you were getting involved? You would do very well to figure out why you missed any important signs that the two of you were not a great fit.
Consider this a valuable life lesson. It says a lot about your solidity that you aren’t letting Lisa’s rejection undermine your own respect for your career choice or lead you to doubt your worth. But clearly, you could be more discerning in picking a potential spouse.
It’s true that fun times and treating each other decently are components of a good relationship, but there’s more. Common values, mutual respect, a shared vision for the sort of life you would like to build, a desire to collaborate and a willingness to accept differences are also important. Going forward, look for these as well.